South Fortuna Mountain
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I parked off Sycamore Canyon Rd, just past a ranch home. I found the trail system across the street where expected. From the beginning it was obvious that it sees more equestrian that foot traffic - the trail was rutted and ground into fine dirt. Most of the equestrian traffic seems confined to the locale around the ranch home and large, accompanying fields. Further east the trail was less traveled but still well-defined. There are numerous branches that veer off in other directions. A woman I met on horseback much later explained that she likes to make new trails when she gets bored with the old ones. I followed the branches that corresponded most closely with the route depicted on my GPS. Portions have eroded badly over the years, but are still quite serviceable. After about a half hour the trail upcanyon grew thin and somewhat overgrown, Goat Mtn coming into view and looking somewhat impressive from this vantage. The trail drops some to Poway Creek before veering right in the wrong direction. The topo map shows a Jeep Trail turning left before reaching the creek but I found no sign of that. Ahead I could see what looked like a trail heading up the west side of Goat Peak (the one visible in the satellite view) with a short section of intervening cross-country about 1/3mi in length and climbing a few hundred feet. Luckily the slope on the north side of the creek wasn't too brushy and I made this section without any serious bushwhacking. I picked up the trail once I reached a flat spot at the base of the mountain's west side. Here the going gets extremely steep up loose, eroded trail, going over the shoulder just north of the summit. The cross-country from there was decidedly short and had only a small amount of poison oak to be concerned with.
I reached the summit shortly after 8a, taking just under an hour. The summit is located amidst a jumble of granite boulders, easy class 3 with minimal brush. The brush could become worse with time - fires swept over this area less than 10yrs ago, much of it still evident in the burnt snags that take decades to decompose. The views are open and surprisingly good in all directions. Mt. Woodson dominates to the north, Iron Mtn to the east, Poway and the coastal developments to the west. One can see into Mexico to the south on a clear day, but today proved a little too hazy.
After descending the west side, I decided to explore an alternate return by following the trail as it generally followed the canyon down Poway Creek. I was surprised to find this trail appears to be used mostly by cyclists especially considering its difficulty. In places the trail is rocky and almost class 3, yet somehow mountain bikes were ridden down here. This is the sort of thing you might expect from the X-Games, not someone's backyard workout ride. Significant effort was put into banking some of the turns (with drainage pipes installed, no less), building hair-raising jumps and other improvements on what would be an extremely expert route (and I generally hate the overused word "extreme"). I don't think I could have managed to carry my bike up the route, let alone contemplate riding down. I wish I could have seen one of them in action. Lower down the trail becomes tamer but still difficult as it follows along steep embankments, drops into dry Poway Creek and eventually emerges as an equestrian trail in a newish neighborhood along Garden Road. Rather than simply follow the roads back for the last mile, I turned south out of the neighborhood to take another unmarked dirt trail around the east side of the ranch fields. A small cemetery plot with a single headstone and about five names caught my attention. As I was examining this, I met up with a talkative woman on horseback, the one mentioned earlier. She told me a little about the history of the cemetery (apparently developers wanted to move the gravesites to make way for more homes but were unable to locate any relatives) and a host of other things before riding off. I continued around the fields to rejoin the trail I had taken out (catching a roadrunner darting across my path on the way), and was back to the van by 9:30a.
A whole network of trails crisscross the park, many miles in length. Almost every junction has a sign listing points and other trails accessible by the various forks. Oddly, there are no arrows and no mileage given on any of the signs I encountered, all fairly new. If one had a park map (available at any of the TH kiosks) it would be easy to navigate by these signs. Not knowing this ahead of time I didn't bother to collect one of these maps when I started out and was at somewhat of a disadvantage. Luckily I had a general idea of the lay of the land from previous visits and knew from the start where South Fortuna was. My first goal was to reach Fortuna Saddle found between North and South Fortuna, clearly visible from the start. There are two primary ways to reach the saddle from the east, both passing through a pretty grassland, the likes of which were once far more common in San Diego County. It took about 45min to reach the saddle via a series of wide trails (roads, really), the last segment steep and sometimes rocky. I turned left, or south, at the saddle and reached the summit of South Fortuna in another 10min. The highpoint is less than obvious, one of several small rocky outcrops vying for the honor. One of these, though not necessarily the highest, is marked by a park sign as the summit. Good views are found in all directions with North Fortuna to the north (obviously) and Cowles Mtn to the south. For a better view of Mission Gorge, one needs to walk further south along the trail to a rocky overlook site. Look carefully and you can find a small memorial cross tucked amongst these rocks.
I continued down the trail to the southwest on what are called the "South Fortuna Stairs", a collection of perhaps a hundred railroad ties that have been laid in a series of stairways down the steep ridgeline, intermittently broken up with some rocky scrambling. Younger family members may find these highly adventurous. Once down on the west side of the mountain I turned east and made a broad arc around North Fortuna Mtn, with portions along a dry creekbed (a picnic site suggests it's probably quite pleasant when water is running), others across rolling chaparral country. It was warm by this time and the place felt deserted - it is one of the more remote parts of the park, not that any of it is truly remote. I followed the Perimeter Trail along a fenceline between the park and the SR52 freeway on the other side. It's one of the less scenic trails with head-level chaparral blocking views for much of the way. From the highpoint of this trail north of North Fortuna, one can see a mile of straight trail following the fence. I had intended to follow the trail further east, but grew bored of it and turned south below a freeway overpass and headed down Oak Canyon Creek, a much more interesting trail. Only a trickle of water could be found at this time, but the smoothed rocks told of lovely cascades that tumble down the canyon in wetter conditions. I followed this down through lusher portions, across a bridge and eventually ending up an overlook for the old Mission Dam. A mile later I was back at the start and ready to call it a day around 2p. The family was waiting for me back in Rancho Bernardo and it was time to make an end of this short roadtrip. But not to worry - I have plenty more projects in San Diego County to keep me busy for years to come...
This page last updated: Wed Feb 2 17:51:01 2022
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